The serene beauty of the Ambal or the blue water lily; the enchanting Anathamara or giant water lily that spreads itself buoyantly on the waters as though making a strong case for eternal spring on earth. A cheery walk amid these lovely aquatic-plants at the Malabar Botanical Garden in Kozhikode would make your day! From the smallest flowering plant- the mustard greens- to thick bushes of the screw pine plant, this botanical garden is a cosy home to a number of rare and exotic floras. Even the rare aquatic species of Crinum malabaricum from North Malabar that features in researches related to Alzheimer’s disease, and is said to be the new hope in that field of study, has found its spot here. There’s no other garden in south-east Asia that can boast of such diversity in aquatic plants.
The Malabar Botanical Garden and Institute of Plant Sciences spreads itself on 60 acres of land with over 10,000 varieties of plants. Even with all this luscious beauty on the land, the botanical garden specializes in aquatic plants. Of the 800 varieties of common aquatic plant species seen in India, around 600 can be found here. The mustard greens, smaller than the whole mustard, makes a yellow carpet on the water surface when it flowers. Crinum Malabaricum, mostly found in Kasargod and Kannur was brought to the garden from Madayipara, a hillock in Kannur district.
QR Code instead of a guide
The aquatic bio-park is situated right at the entrance of the botanical garden. From there, one can start the 1-km walk into the botanical garden. To help you understand more about the plants that you encounter on your way, QR codes have been set for each plant which is quite an effective way of introducing them to the visitors in the absence of a guide. When you scan the QR code next to the signboards that carry the name of a specific plant on your phone, it will take you to a page with detailed information on the same.
Birds rule the garden as people are found lesser here. It was when a student from Wayanad undertook a sample study as part of research purposes that the diversity of the birds in the garden came to light, even for the authorities. The authorities are now trying to set up better facilities for bird watching and observation in the mornings.
An astounding house of ginger
A world of assorted ginger awaits you in the ginger house that was opened more recently. Apart from the regular variety of the spice used for cooking, you will find hundreds of variants of ginger from its huge family- those with medicinal properties, those that bloom, and a few others with beautiful leaves making them a perfect choice for décor purposes. Over 400 varieties from the Zingiberales order of plants including ginger, turmeric and plantains are nurtured here with utmost care.
Hortus Valley in the garden is a tribute to the famous Hortus Malabaricus- a treatise that details the diverse properties of the flora found in the Western Ghats. It was written by Hendrik Van Rheede and Itty Achuthan Vaidyar in the 17th century. Over 700 plant species mentioned in the Hortus Malabaricus can be found in the Hortus Valley.
A conservation centre designed for 140 varieties of ferns makes for another attractive feature in the garden. Chitralada or Tilapia fish thump around enthusiastically in the huge aquaponics pond. Even before indoor plants became trendy, the nursery here had done its share of experiments successfully on exotic varieties like Aglaonema and the Pink Princess that cost thousands of rupees. The garden is also home to a carnivorous house comprising formidable prey-hunting plant species like the Nepenthes and the Venus flytrap. These are just a few of the vast array of amusing experiences that await you in this magical garden!
Come away to learn the basics of gardening
For those interested in tending to plants, there is a team of experts here ready to offer training in horticultural techniques such as budding, grafting and layering, along with pest control methods and landscaping. There is also training available for subsidized rates; if there is a group of people wanting to get trained, there are packages for training sessions that last over a stay of two days and one night. For science students from colleges, an academic attachment programme was conceived, but it’s on a standstill now owing to the lockdown that was brought about owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The authorities hope to restart this programme in the upcoming academic year.
There is a counter system arranged at the garden to sell plants grown in their own nursery. There is another counter yet to be opened at the Science Centre, managed by the Science and Technology department of the state, at the Kozhikode beach where the sales is expected to go through the roof!
“If you go to nurseries in Bengaluru and ask for Aglaonema Stuart, they will give you this variety—the one I developed that is now known by my name!” exclaims Stuart, who is the Thiruvananthapuram-based gardener at the nursery. His colleagues agree to his claim, too. Among the many varieties of the expensive Aglaonema, Stuart’s variety has grown well and clearly stands out from the rest. From the Fluto plant that costs Rs 7500 to the commonly found money plant, the nursery has a huge variety of plant species.
The wondrous world of green that remains ignored
The garden opens every day at 10 in the morning, but people who come in are far too less in numbers. It’s only between 4 and 6 in the evening that one can find a few onlookers. Even the city dwellers haven’t quite taken notice of this spectacular garden that takes just a 15-minute ride from the city; it’s situated next to Guruvayurappan College in Pokkunnu, Kozhikode. The garden re-opened on January 26 post lockdown with new and improved facilities, but still, visitors other than students of Science and research are scanty.
Students from various parts of Kerala are able to utilize the new laboratory with the state-of-the-art equipment that aid in researches pertaining to Molecular Biology.
However, the major problem faced by the Malabar Botanical Garden managed by the Kerala State Council for Science and Technology is shortage of permanent employees. Despite good infrastructural development and several plans for better research facilities, positions—even for the permanent Director- lying vacant is a foreseeable hurdle in the smooth functioning of this plant paradise.